Drawing on cognitive science, literary critics such as Mark Turner have affirmed that for human beings thinking is crucially bound up with narrative. This essay examines how Ian McEwan in his novel Saturday (2005) adds a specifically affective element to the human engagement with narrative through a focus on the neurobiology of consciousness. By casting a neurosurgeon as his protagonist, McEwan attends to what damaged brains can reveal about how story-loving human beings “mind the world. Moreover, in this essay the work of Gerald Edelman in neuroscience and Lisa Feldman Barrett in psychology is cited to bring together disparate fields in affirming that affective feelings convey information about the interface between self and environment. By setting the novel in a single day in London, after 9/11 and during preparations for war in Iraq, McEwan affirms a constructivist theory of knowledge, in which individuals and collectives—including novelists— participate in making up meaningful presents and livable futures. Saturday provides a meditation on how we might further bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences of mind through cautious collaborations based on the biological rootedness of storytelling, the centrality of feeling to thinking, and a shared empiricism that embraces human activities of interpretation balanced by testing, calibration, and revision.
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Jane F. Thrailkill; Ian McEwan's Neurological Novel. Poetics Today 1 March 2011; 32 (1): 171–201. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1188221
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